Free weights vs. machines: which is a better tool for stimulating maximum muscle size and strength gains?

The automatic answer you’ll usually hear is the “free weights vs. machines” debate is that free weights are superior and should form the underlying basis of your overall workout program…

While free weights typically will make up the majority of your training routine, it’s not exactly accurate to say that one tool is “better” than the other, as they both have their own unique advantages and uses.

The main reason why free weights are generally recommended over machines is because they allow you to move through a more natural range of motion.

This forces you to recruit more stabilizer muscles and it also reduces your chances of injury since your body is not stuck on a fixed plane of movement.

While this certainly does have some application, it really depends on what type of machine movement you’re dealing with.

For example, a smith machine does keep you on a fixed plane of movement, as does hammer strength equipment and certain other machines.

However, there are plenty of other cable based machine movements that allow for plenty of freedom throughout the entire range of motion.

For example, lat pulldowns, tricep pushdowns and cable side laterals are all fantastic machine exercises that properly hit the targeted muscles while allowing you to move naturally.

In addition, there are plenty of effective machine movements that cannot be duplicated (at least not easily) using basic free weights.

Leg presses, leg curls, certain calf movements, v-bar pulldowns, cable crossovers (using a high to low angle) and face pulls are just a few examples.

The bottom line here is that muscle growth is an adaptive response to stress as the muscles are placed under progressively greater levels of tension over time.

For that reason, ANY tool, whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell, cable or machine, will be an effective means of producing muscle hypertrophy.

If I was forced to choose one over the other, I would certainly choose free weights, but this hardly has any practical application to your program, and these types of bodybuilding issues are rarely ever black and white.

Free Weights Vs. Machines: The Bottom Line

Don’t make the mistake of believing that free weights are massively superior or that your entire workout should be based on freeweight movements only.

At the end of the day, both free weights and machines are effective means of building muscle size and strength, and an optimal bodybuilding workout will include a mixture of both tools.

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